In a society and establishment where individuality is generally frowned upon and conformity is key, Tsuyoshi Shinjo was, and still is, king. To quote Omar Minaya in the scouting report he compiled for the "heartthrob" back in 2000, one of the outfielder's most notable qualities was "his individuality in a system that's very structured." I don't know how he thrived in Japanese baseball—given his style of play and the propensity of others to complain, and his overall lackluster numbers—but when Shinjo is involved, things hardly do make sense.
Where do we begin with a character such as Shinjo? Born in Tsushima, a city of 40,000 in Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture, Tsuyoshi Shinjo was drafted out of high school by the Hanshin Tigers with their fifth-round selection in the 1989 NPB Draft. In 1991, at age 19, he got his first cup-of-coffee, appearing in 13 games and getting 17 plate appearances with the Tigers.
The next season, he got a larger taste of life in Japan's big leagues, as he appeared in 95 games and got 378 plate appearances. He hit .278/.320/.433 and hit 11 home runs but stole only five bases despite possessing plus speed and struck out at an alarming rate. In 1993, Shinjo became a bona fide starter for Hanshin, playing 102 games that season and getting 436 plate appearances. His .257 batting average and .305 on-base percentage left a lot to be desired, but his 13 doubles and career-high 23 home runs resulted in a .463 slugging percentage. Coupled with his plus defense in the outfield, Shinjo won his first Best Nine Award, an award given to the best player at each position in either league.
Shinjo wasn't able to repeat that success in 1994, as he hit .251/.304/.440 in 110 games. In 1995, after hitting .225/.294/.360 through July, manager Taira Fujita reprimanded him for his lack of practice and his perceived lack of effort, and in response, Shinjo temporarily retired from baseball. He would come out of retirement for the 1997 season, would go on to be an excellent glove-first player, and I could go on with writing a transcription of those stats, but I won't. It wouldn't capture what made Shinjo Shinjo. Instead, here is a list of some things that did.
- In 1994, he recorded a love song, entitled "True Love."
- He dyed his hair orange.
- He began wearing the colorful wristbands that are now synonymous with his name.
- He turned down a lucrative five-year, $14 million contract offered by Hanshin to sign a one-year, MLB minimum contract with the Mets because New York is "funky"
After concluding his second tour of duty with the Mets in 2003, the Nippon Ham Fighters signed the outspoken outfielder. Over three seasons with them, he hit .265/.300/.460. He actually had his best season ever in 2004, when he hit .298/.327/.508 with 24 home runs in 123 games. On April 18, 2006, the 34-year-old Shinjo made a surprise announcement: He would retire from baseball at the conclusion of the season. He told fans, "I want you to remember my last season in this uniform...I want to enjoy the rest of the season more than ever." He certainly did.
- After retiring, he planned to become a nude model, posing along with his wife. He never got to follow up on that goal, despite the incorrect claims of a Mets VP that Adam Rubin tweeted back in August. He did become a clothing model, though, modeling underwear and hanging out with celebrities
- He began wearing collared shirts under his uniform, with the oversized collars sticking out above the uniform. In addition, he starting wearing custom shoes celebrating his final season.
- His name was spelled out in English letters, rather than Japanese kanji, on scoreboards.
- On May 18, 2006, in a series between Hanshin and Hokkaido, he was caught and fined for wearing his old Hanshin Tigers jersey underneath his Fighters uniform.
- In the 2006 All-Star Game, he used an opalescent-painted bat and wore an oversized belt buckle that had a scrolling LED message that stated "Never Mind Whatever I Do, Fan Is My Treasure".
- During that same All-Star Game, during introductions, he was lowered from the roof onto the playing field on a large disco ball-like device.
- After hitting a grand slam against the Yakult Swallows to tie a game and send it into extra innings, he purposefully threw the game by letting a fly ball hit in his direction dunk in, because he had a four-way date scheduled that night, and he didn't want to break the appointment.
- While with the Nippon Ham Fighters, he told manager Katsuya Nomura, Don Nomura's stepfather, that he didn't steal bases because he had no interest in doing so, and added that he didn't want his leg to get too muscular, because muscular legs would not look good in jeans.
- During warm-ups before games, he often wore various non-regulation hats and masks, bordering from the cute and comical to the bizarre and garish.
- On May 18, 2008, he threw out the ceremonial first pitch in a game between the Fighters and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. Wearing a Hawks jersey that had his face printed on the back in lieu of a number, and a golden glove, he induced a ground out to short.
He currently lives in Bali, where he built himself a motocross track and is training to become a motocross racer. He seems to have put his art, fashion and horse racing careers behind him. Never stop being you, Shinjo.